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October 25, 2006 | South Carolina Headlines


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Pathetic Excuses Given For Poor Test Results
Jimmy Moore
September 26, 2003

Education in South Carolina took a hard punch to the stomach this week with the release of the latest Palmetto Achievement Challenge Test scores.

Less than one out of every four elementary and middle schools in the South Carolina public school system met the "annual yearly progress" standards.

The No Child Left Behind Act has forced schools to raise the academic bar higher than they have previously settled.  It requires all students to be deemed proficient in both English and math by the year 2014.

However, there is still a lot of work to do to make this a reality, especially in English, which saw a dip in the score for the first time in the five-year history of the PACT.  This is an especially important area to me since I am working towards becoming an English teacher in South Carolina public schools.

The excuses that have been given for the poor English/Language Arts scores are varied.  Here are just a few of them along with my thoughts and suggestions about each:

1.  Test fatigue and burnout - Okay, so the students were forced to perform on this test after having been through testing in other subject areas the previous week or so.  It sounds like a great life skill to me.  Why shouldn't students be tested to see how they do under pressure?  Do you think a future boss will settle for less than their very best just because there are periods where the work is more intense than usual?  No.  I think it is one of the best life lessons we could teach children is the ability to produce results despite the circumstances.

2.  The tests should be spread out - I agree with this excuse, but not for the same reasons others have stated.  Many believe that the students are forced to cram in all these tests in such a short period of time towards the end of the school year.  But spreading them out over a month or two would only take up valuable classroom time that the students need.  I have a better idea.  Since so much time and energy is spent during the school year focusing on the PACT, why not take the pressure off of both the students and the teachers by moving the test to consecutive weekends in June?  The students could come to school at 9:00 and take the first test, take an hour break for lunch and then take another test in the afternoon.  If this was done over consecutive weekends, the students would complete all the testing quickly and under less stress than the current schedule.  Also, this testing would actually be a better indicator of what the students learned for the entire school year.  Why wouldn't this work?

3.  The English test was given last - I understand that most students view English as their most difficult subject (although mine was science!).  Therefore, pushing the English/Language Arts test to the back of the PACT schedule probably did not help with the poor test scores.  In my work as a substitute teacher, I have taught in many English classes at the middle school and high school levels.  If the papers I have read from students are any indication of how well they comprehend English, then the scores do not surprise me at all.  Maybe when they move the English test to the beginning of the testing schedule in 2004 the scores will be better.  But it will not make a significant difference.

4.  Test inaccuracies - While it is not out of the realm of possibility that the PACT test could contain some mistakes, it undoubtedly goes through a series of error checks before being distributed to the schools.  The reality of the situation is that there are not enough mistakes with the test to cause the test scores to drop like they did this year.

5.  Wording of the questions - Some argue that many of the students cannot read well enough to comprehend the wording of the questions.  My question to that excuse is why not?  Shouldn't a student be able to read and comprehend the instructions on a test?  Interestingly, every grade of students did worse on the English PACT test except for the third grade.  What was the difference?  Their teachers were allowed to READ most of the test to their students while the other grades were not.  A lot can be said for an increased focus on reading skills in English classes.

6.  Hispanic students bring down the average - There are more Hispanic students in our public schools than ever before.  Since many of them are new to the English language, how can they be expected to do well on a test they cannot understand?  I believe these students need to go through a "catch-up" course to get them up to speed in English before they are allowed to integrate with the other students.  It is not fair to the students who are in a school with a high number of Spanish-speaking students to have their school fail because they have not learned the language.

7.  We need more school choice - Education reformers will jump on the opportunity to show that other education choices need to be explored, including charter, private and Christian schools as well as homeschooling.  These poor results from public schools certainly give these advocates a compelling argument for their education alternatives.

While everyone agrees that there is still a lot work left to do to bring English PACT test scores up to where they need to be, making excuses will not make it happen!  We need to look at solutions that are already working in the schools that did well.



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